Namaste, 2017!

Life is ever brimming with challenges, sadness, joy, surprises, togetherness, alone-time, emotion, work, play, love and learning. Comedy, tragedy and everything overlapping in between.

Walking the path of beauty means making the choice to live in a way that fulfills you…. the deepest, truest, clearest version of you. When we embody the best version of ourselves, we transmit our happiness, fulfillment and light to those around us.

In reflecting on my past life in the States — working overtime, eating packaged foods, fighting traffic, perpetually stressed and seeking contentment in all the wrong places — that lifestyle seems like it was already many lifetimes ago, when really only eight years have passed.

Over the course of the years, I’ve had moments where I sense that my long-ago, seemingly impossible dreams (to live in an exotic Latin American culture, to teach yoga and meditation, to write, to create a family with a wonderful partner) have become reality.

This month, I’ll be collaborating with some fabulous friends to give a weekend retreat at La KzonA Atitlan, and I will be leading my first week-long retreat — at Villa Sumaya!

p.s. There are still spots left for both; if you are feeling inspired to join either of these learning circles, I encourage you to take the leap!

I am filled with gratitude for these opportunities to share the powerful practices of chakra yoga, yin yoga, heartfulness and creative writing!

Here’s to living the dream, day by day, moment to moment.

May you live your dream.

May you be you.

May all beings be happy!

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Winds of Change

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Point Arena Lighthouse  Mendocino County  California USA

It’s 8 Iq today. Iq is the Mayan sign of wind.

There is a gentle breeze or none right now in the living room. I am still, settled, in Sacramento. The sacrament. The sacred mundane. Waking up in a quiet house full of relatives asleep. Soon enough the coffee will be brewing, the people chattering, retiree household bustle. Waking up in a familiar, cozy place.

Tomorrow, we’ll be waking up on a train. Tonight, we take the night train north, northwest. The Oregon Trail. To a bend in the river and a port by the sea. Then a jet engine propels us yet further, all the way to Canada. The Columbia with a U, of the British variety. To the mountains. Belly rumbling to the sound of the now-brewing coffee, in anticipation.

Saying farewell to my parents, my partner and embarking on a mami-hija adventure for the next couple of weeks of catching up with beloved old friends in the Pacific Northwest until our return home to the nest by the lake in the south.

We are blowing in the wind, going with the flow, making plans and showing up, early or late or changing the plans or dropping the plans. Breathing the breath of life. Remembering gratitude, gratitude, love, kindness, compassion, gratitude again.

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Kite surfer, California Coast

17 Years since Columbine

{First published on elephant journal}

Dylan Klebold was 17 and Eric Harris 18 when they walked into their high school in suburban Denver, planted huge bombs concealed in duffel bags in the cafeteria that would have killed and maimed hundreds had they exploded, then shot dozens of people on the school grounds and killed 15, including 12 peers, one teacher and themselves.

Columbine was a failed bombing that became the worst school shooting in history. At the time. In the decade post-Columbine, over 80 school shootings occurred in the U.S., not to mention the plethora of mass massacres at other venues like cinemas, churches and airports.

I was finishing up my freshman year of college at UT at the time of the tragedy. I vaguely recall seeing televised aerial footage of the vast campus, kids barely younger than me embracing and sobbing, overcome with shock and sadness. I remember that it was a big deal.

I’ve read two books on Columbine in the past few months, one a journalistic review of the event, killers, victims and aftermath, the other a heartbreaking and surprisingly compelling account written by the mother of one of the killers, Dylan.

Sue Klebold’s A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy was written with 16 years of perspective on the day that forever altered her life and the lives of countless others in the community. She writes of praying for her son to kill himself once it dawned on her that he was on a shooting rampage and hurting others, yet she could not fully come to grips with the fact that he would intentionally harm and kill people until being shown “The Basement Tapes” by the police, months after the murders. These several segments of home video “produced” by Eric and Dylan in the weeks prior to Columbine tell of their evil plans and blare their hatred for society and particular individuals at the school (none of whom were injured or killed in the attack).

“Eric Harris appears to have been a homicidal psychopath, and Dylan Klebold, a suicidal depressive, and their disparate madnesses were each other’s necessary condition.” ~ Sue Klebold

“An angry, erratic depressive and a sadistic psychopath make a combustible pair.”
~ Dave Cullen

The multitude of media myths around Columbine are thoroughly outline in Columbine by Dave Cullen, a fascinating book that was clearly meticulously researched. Published in 2009, it is a comprehensive, narrative take on the matter.

Having absorbed these two volumes, it is obvious that the underlying root problem in mass murders/school shootings/terrorist attacks—any type of violence, really—is what Sue Klebold calls brain illness or brain disease. (As opposed to “mental illness.” Or “crazy f*cked up in the head.”)

This is something I know intimately. It hardly seems possible looking out from my eyes at my life today and the relative balance, serenity and contentment I’ve attained (balanced, of course, with periods of worry, frustration and confusion)… but for a solid 9 years, maybe more, beginning at the stroke of turning 20, I wrestled with a variety of brain demons: namely, depression, anxiety and mania. Eleven years ago, in mid-April 2005, I was committed to the Austin State Hospital for ten days during a textbook manic episode.

Brain disease is not limited to tumors. Mental illness is a brain disease. Whatever you call it, it is a huge issue among humanity that affects all of us.

Not “so many.”

All.

Even those of us who may or may not have a diagnosed brain illness and who look at murderers and terrorists as some alien entity, some “other” that does not pertain to us, an enemy of goodness and society.

My own personal mind’s disease was not homicidal or suicidal. It didn’t reach that depth. Most depressed people just turn their anger inward and hate themselves, a sentiment painfully chronicled by Dylan Klebold in his journal. (Both Columbine killers left behind mountains of written documentation.) The most frequently used word in Dylan’s notebook was “love,” while Eric’s diary’s first line stated, “I fucking hate the world,” and he goes on to fantasize about offing all humans from the face of the earth.

“Our current story facilitates the rise of psychopathy and empowers the psychopath. … We must act in order to take away their power and change the system.”
~ Charles Eisenstein

The media coverage of the Columbine shooting and the details released about the killers, their preparations, and the execution of their sinister plans have led to a large amount of copycat killings. Other teenage boys who see them as heroes, which is exactly what Eric envisioned and intended.

According to Malcolm Gladwell’s chilling New Yorker essay Thresholds of Violence, “The sociologist Ralph Larkin argues that Harris and Klebold laid down the “cultural script” for the next generation of shooters. …Their motivations were spelled out with grandiose specificity: Harris said he wanted to “kick-start a revolution.” Larkin looked at the twelve major school shootings in the United States in the eight years after Columbine, and he found that in eight of those subsequent cases the shooters made explicit reference to Harris and Klebold.”

So, one thing that we can do at the individual level is not glorify the killers. Not watch news programs or channels that do so. Not obsess over their faces and names. Not give them the spotlight. Ironically, Eric and Dylan have the spotlight in these two books and in the annals of recent history. By studying them, we can begin to approach an understanding of what happened, and why and how it happened. Changing gun laws would help. Preventing, recognizing and effectively treating brain illness would help more.

In conclusion, there is no conclusion.

Columbine was 17 years ago: April 20, 1999.

Where were you that day? Where were we? And where are we now?

Sue Klebold has devoted her life to loving and understanding her lost son and grieving for his victims and their families. Her book goes into some depth around raising awareness of brain illnesses, especially in adolescents and teens, and suicide prevention and support for the families and friends of suicide victims. She does not take responsibility for her son’s actions but seeks and finds a number of warning signs in retrospect, of course. More than anything, her book shows that violent tragedy can strike even in a loving family and seemingly tranquil community.

Anything can happen to us at any time. How can we move through the moments and experiences with grace and presence? How can we live from the heart and inspire and encourage others to do the same? How can we help those lost among us who are disconnected from their hearts—before another senseless tragedy occurs?

The Culture Wheel

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What makes us who we are?

Our culture! And as the world becomes more interconnected, cultures mix, mingle and swirl to create sub-cultures and each of us arguably has a unique sub-sub-culture.

My (awesome) principal a few years ago introduced the culture wheel assignment to us teachers during the orientation/prep week prior to the beginning of the school year. It was an almost entirely new staff, and by drawing and writing about our own personal cultures—and then presenting them to the group and discussing them—we all got to know each other well and quickly formed strong bonds. In September, I asked my three co-homeschooled/fifth grade students to each create one of their own as well.

Here is an example:

Break down a circle (100%) into parts. (My example is in the photo above.)

Other categories could be sports, nature, cooking, language, religion, personality, humor, and so on. Then, write a brief essay explaining why you chose each category and assigned it the piece of the pie that you did.

What makes me me?

What is my personal culture?

What/who/where influences me and affect my day to day life?

How does it influence me?

Let’s Get Ready to Reverb! #reverb13

Let’s Get Ready to Reverb!

#reverb13

Reverb is a means of reflection on the year that has passed and looking forward to the coming year. It provides us with an opportunity to celebrate life and mourn losses together.

Every day during December, I’ll post a writing prompt in the form of a question. You can answer as privately or publicly as you wish, as often as you wish, in as many words as you wish. If you want to share things you’ve written, you can leave them in the comments or link to your blog about the topic of the day.

I did this in 2011 and it was great fun and many participated. I did not do it last year, as I was verrry pregnant and therefore too preoccupied with my impending life change to #reverb. But this year—2013—it’s on!

It’s been an amazing year and I’m looking forward to looking back… Hope you’ll join me!

December 26 – Seva (Service)

How did you serve in 2011? Do you plan to volunteer in 2012?
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In addition to teaching 8th grade English, I am the Community Service Coordinator at my school in Guatemala. In this role, I have been fortunate to connect with some amazing nonprofit work going on in this country at organizations including Long Way Home, which is building parks, a school and a community center in a village called Comalapa, as well as Safe Passage, an educational support center that provides food, love and education to children living in poverty near the garbage dump here in Guatemala City. In 2011, I organized many “Service Saturday” volunteer trips for students, teachers and parents.
I personally got involved with an organization called La Alianza (alliance) which is a safe house for teenagers who have been rescued from human trafficking. Along with another friend, I’ve gone there once or twice a month since September to teach yoga to the girls. In early December, we threw them a big Christmas party, complete with piñatas, tamales, cake, and donated presents. The girls’ spirit is amazing; though they’ve all been through unimaginable horrors in their young lives, they smile and laugh and hug us and are always so grateful to us.
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“Service is the rent we pay for being on this earth.” ~Marian Wright Edelman

December 25 – Milagro (Wonder)

Illustrate your own personal wonderland — real or imagined. What’s the weather like? Who else is there with you? Use vivid detail.
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“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” ~ Charles Kingsley